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12 Best Places to Visit & Things to Do in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram is a port city in the Chengalpattu District of Tamil Nadu. The bustling port city lies on the coast of Bay of Bengal, close to Chennai (around 60 kilometres), the capital of the state. Popular for the rich collection of ancient monuments and Hindu temples, Mahabalipuram is undeniably the top tourist destination of Tamil Nadu for history buffs and those who want to rejuvenate in an idyllic setting. Named after Narasimhavarman I, the 7th century ruler from the Pallava Dynasty, who was a great wrestler or Mamallam, Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is renowned to mariners for “Seven Pagodas” since Marco Polo’s time.

The impressive setting of pristine beaches lined by casuarina trees, the historical vibes of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Group of Monuments, the moderate climate throughout the year, the people and their festivals – all depict the greatness of the place that should be explored once in a life. Let us tell you about the best places to visit in Mahabalipuram as well as what you must do in these places.

12 Must-Visit Places and Must-Do Things in Mahabalipuram at A Glance

Name of the Places Distance from Mahabalipuram Bus Stand
Shore Temple 300 metres
Mahabalipuram Beach 500 metres
Arjuna’s Penance 170 metres
Five Rathas 1.5 km
Ganesh Ratha 220 metres
Alamparai Fort 53.9 km
Tiger Caves 11.7 km
Covelong Beach 23 km
Krishna’s Butter Ball 280 metres
Mahishasuramardini Cave 220 metres
Mamallapuram Lighthouse 400 metres
Crocodile Bank 16.4 km

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Visiting Shore Temple: The Iconic Landmark of Mahabalipuram

Shore Temple Mahabalipuram

A temple complex, known as Shore Temple is located along the Bay of Bengal, one of the world’s largest bays. One of the ancient ‘seven pagodas’ the iconic temple attracts visitors for its natural rock formations along the sea. One of the earliest South Indian temples built in the Dravidian architecture, Shore Temple was created in the 7th century and reflects the regal taste of the Pallava dynasty. UNESCO has included the temple’s construction as one of its World Heritage Sites. It is impossible to leave Mahabalipuram without paying a visit to the Shore Temple.

Top Things to Do

  • Witness the waves crashing on the rocks
  • Photography
  • Visit nearby monuments

Also Read: Must Visit Temples in Chennai Tamil Nadu

Relaxing by The Mahabalipuram Beach: A Romantic Place for Couples

Mahabalipuram Beach

Mahabalipuram Beach, with its over 20 km of shoreline, is renowned for its crystalline waters and beautiful sands. One of the most popular tourist places for tourists in Tamil Nadu and longest in India, this beach is encircled by rolling hills along with the glistening sea. There are several wonderful tourist spots to see on the Mahabalipuram Beach, which includes the rock-cut temples that stare out over the Bay of Bengal. The Mahabalipuram Beach is the ideal vacation destination for everyone looking for a place to unwind and escape the stress of daily life. Locals and visitors from afar visit this beach to soak in the stunning scenery, peaceful surroundings, and solitude of the beach.

Top Things to Do

  • Relaxing
  • Sunbathing
  • Beach Walks
  • Watersports Activities
  • Sightseeing to nearby temples
  • Turtle Walk

Also Read: Kanchipuram Tamil Nadu Tourism Information

Exploring Arjuna’s Penance: The ‘Descent of The Ganges’

Arjuna Penance Mahabalipuram

One of the popular tourism sights in Mahabalipuram, Arjuna’s Penance is a carved relief, believed to be built in the mid-seventh century. One of the world’s largest, this magnificent relief measures approximately 15 metres in height and 30 metres in length. However, there are different opinions about the illustration on the walls which depict the stories of both Arjuna’s Penance and Descent of the Ganges. That’s why the place is known by the two names.

The Mahabharata contains a tale of Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, who underwent arduous penance in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon. The illustration shows the story. Moreover, similar stories include the Ganges tale, in which the sage Bhagiratha engages in penance in order to bring the Ganges to earth. Shiva had to agree to stop her descent in his hair because otherwise the ground couldn’t withstand its force.

Both tales are supported by the relief’s symbolism. Additionally, the heroic Arjuna was seen as a symbol of the rulers, and the Ganges was seen as a sign of their cleansing power in both tales, pleasing the Pallavas.

Top Things to Do

  • Photography
  • Learning about the history
  • Sightseeing

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Five Rathas: The Example of Dravidian Style Architecture

Five Rathas Mahabalipuram

The Pancha Rathas, one of the top tourist sights in Mahabalipuram, retain an exceptional place among the forty historic sites. These rathas are a collection of five monolithic free-standing temples that were carved out of solid granite and diorite rocks under the patronage of Narasimhavarman I (630–668 CE). The five temples have no relation to the Mahabharata but are symbolically named after the Pandavas and Draupadi.

The Draupadi Ratha, which resembles a stylized South Indian hut, is the first ratha on the left as you enter. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Durga, who battles demons. The “chariot” of the most significant Pandava, the Arjuna Ratha, is then located on the same plinth and is devoted to Shiva. The missing north-side colonnade shows the barrel-roofed Bhima Ratha, which was never finished. Inside, there is a Vishnu shrine. The tallest temple, the Dharmaraja Ratha, has lion pillars and is one level higher than the Arjuna Ratha. The Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha, which is devoted to Indra and is named after twin Pandavas, stands apart from the other four. One of India’s most well-known elephant sculptures is the life-size stone elephant next to it.

Top Things to Do

  • Visiting the five temples
  • Learning about the sculptures
  • Exploring the history
  • Photography
  • Sightseeing

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Ganesh Ratha: The Example of Intricate Stone Works

Ganesh Ratha Mahabalipuram

One of Mahabalipuram’s historic structures is the Ganesha Ratha. The Ratha’s architecture and stonework are its most appealing aspects. The town is known as the temple town of India thanks to the beach temples, Ratha temples, and other local temples. The “Ganesha Ratha” in Mahabalipuram is one of the city’s major attractions. Undoubtedly one of the top tourist places to visit in Mahabalipuram, Ganesh Ratha Temple is situated north of Arjuna’s Penance, about 0.5 km from Mahabalipuram Bus Station. It is a temple designed to resemble a chariot out of rock that was constructed in the Dravidian style. Lord Shiva was previously honoured by having it. But the temple came to be known as the temple of Lord Ganesh when the original lingam was taken away.

Top Things to Do

  • Sightseeing to nearby monuments
  • Learn about the history of the temple
  • Seek blessings
  • Learn about the sculptures

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Alamparai Fort: Another Attraction for History Lovers

Alamparai Fort Ruins Mahabalipuram

Many find it impossible to resist the moody yet alluring ambiance that the Alamparai Fort emanates, which is one of the beautiful places to visit in Mahabalipuram. Even though the fort may be in disrepair, some people may still discover beauty in its presence. The fort’s picturesque setting has been used for numerous outdoor commercials and film shoots, including a Tamil film called Pithamagan. The Mughals, French, and British all left their marks on the location, making it a historical convergence. These days, seagulls, hermit crabs, barnacles, and baby turtles live in this lesser-known beauty on the Coromandel Coast. The Alamparai was once a bustling port and mint, built as a stronghold to ward off sea invaders and ordered by the Nawab of Carnatic—Dost Ali Khan—in the middle of the eighteenth century.

The tranquil Alamparai fort is surrounded by backwaters and the sea. The summit of the structure can be reached through steps inside the fort. The view from the fort’s edge is breathtaking; people can see shorelines separating the backwaters from the ocean.

Top Things to Do

  • Photography
  • Watching sunrise
  • Cruising in local fishermen’s boat
  • Sightseeing

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Tiger Caves: Visiting Subramanya Temple Nearby

Tiger Caves Mahabalipuram

After making the five-kilometre walk from Mahabalipuram to this picturesque site outside of the town, people recuperate at Tigers Caves, which is located by the Bay of Bengal. The crown of 11 tiger-like heads that are all sculpted around the entrance gave the caves its name. These pictures are thought to resemble a creature called a “yeli,” which is a hybrid of a tiger and a lion. The carving of Goddess Durga atop these tigers is one of the caverns’ most alluring features.

In 2005 there was a discovery of an inscription in the rocks, which initiated the excavation of the neighbouring Subramanya Temple. The Archaeological Survey of India keeps the park’s grounds in good condition, making the Tiger Caves one of the best places to explore in Mamallapuram.

Top Things to Do

  • Hiking
  • Sightseeing
  • Temple Visit
  • Relaxing
  • Picnic
  • Photography

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Covelong Beach: For Watersports Seekers

Covelong Beach Tamil Nadu

Kovalam Beach was formerly known as Covelong during the British Era, and it sways gracefully on the Bay of Bengal’s coastline close to the Covelong Hamlet. This beach was the former harbour of the Carnatic Nawabs, and it is lined by silver sand and palm trees. Thanks to Sadat Ali’s efforts, it was developed. It started off as a modest fishing community but has since grown to become one of South India’s most well-known beach resorts. The historic sea port that had stood there is still accessible. Included in Mahabalipuram sightseeing tour, Kovalam is home to a large number of top-notch beach resorts. The beaches there are very beautiful, and everyone who visits there loves them. Additionally, the well-known Olive Ridley Turtles come to these beaches every year to hatch their eggs.

Top Things to Do

  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Turtle Walk
  • Playing outdoor games
  • Photography
  • Temple Visits
  • Village Walks
  • Sightseeing

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Krishna’s Butter Ball: Must-Visit Place on Mahabalipuram Trip

Krishna Butter Ball Mahabalipuam

The top travel destination in Mahabalipuram, Krishna’s Butter Ball is a particularly remarkable boulder, which was previously known as the “Vaar Iran Kal,” which translates to “Sky God’s Stone.” This enormous boulder has been perched atop a sloping hilltop for all of recorded existence. Now known as “Krishna’s Butter Ball,” the boulder measures six metres in height and five metres in width and the weight is 250 tons.

According to legend, Lord Krishna enjoyed butter and would frequently steal it. He accidently dropped a large amount of butter, which grew into this enormous stone. Another version of this local tale holds that this stone resembles the dish from which butter was infamously stolen by Lord Krishna. This enormous, immobile sight has appeared in many photo albums of travellers from throughout the world. Believe it or not, this enormous stone has been inclining at an angle of 45 degrees for years with a weight heavier than the monolithic stone of Machu Picchu or Peru.

Top Things to Do

  • Hiking
  • Sightseeing
  • Nature Walk
  • Photography

Also Read: Pilgrimage Tourism in Tamil Nadu

Mahishasuramardini Cave: Must-Visit UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mahishasuramardini Cave Mahabalipuram

At the southernmost part of the location known as Yampuri is the Mahishasuramardini cave, often referred to as the Mahishamardini mandapa. The Olakkannesvara temple’s remains are located above it, on the eastern scarp of a rock on the main Mamallapuram hill. Although the temple isn’t complete, the carvings show the pinnacle of Tamil temple rock art.

Numerous panels inside the cave tell stories that are based on the Markandeya Purana. The temple is a superb example of numerous craftspeople working in parallel. Three shrine compartments that are joined to a central, trapezoidal hall make up the mandapa. The side shrines’ floors are about a foot higher than those of the main shrine. A sizable rock relief of Somaskanda depicting Shiva seated in the yoga pose Sukhasana (cross-legged) with Parvati standing next to him holding the young Skanda may be found in the main shrine of this must-see place. Standing behind them are Surya, Vishnu, and Brahma.

Top Things to Do

  • Hiking
  • Exploring the cave
  • Temple Visit
  • Photography
  • Sightseeing

Also Read: Heritage Tourism in Tamil Nadu

Mamallapuram Lighthouse: To Capture Panoramic Views

Mamallapuram Lighthouse

One of the best places to visit near Mahabalipuram is the lighthouse, located just 500 metres from the bus stand. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the lighthouse has been open to the public since 2011 and climbing to the top of this to watch the stunning panoramic views of the shore line is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Mahabalipuram. The Pallava ruler Mahendra Pallava constructed India’s oldest tower in 640 AD, and it is located close to the lighthouse. The new tower, which was constructed between 1887 and 1904, is moreover a century old and is still standing strong. The oldest tower in India, which is almost 1400 years old, is located close by.

Top Things to Do

  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Sightseeing
  • Temple Visits

Also Read: Kanyakumari Tourism Info

Crocodile Bank: To Learn about Indian and African Species

Crocodile Bank Tamil Nadu

The largest crocodile sanctuary in India, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology (MCBT), also known as Crocodile Bank, is one of the well-known tourist destinations and is situated 40 kilometres from Chennai. MCBT is one of the biggest reptile zoos in the whole world with a total area of more than 8.5 acres. In the mid-20th century, the government declared all three of the Indian crocodile species protected under the Wildlife Act after the population of crocodiles had decreased to the point of extinction.

The main obstacle to the formal establishment of the Madras Crocodile Bank was the 1975 launch of the Indian Crocodile Conservation initiative by the Indian government in cooperation with the UN. The crocodile bank now houses more than 2,400 crocodiles, snake species and a collection of turtles. One o the best things to do in Mahabalipuram is undeniably visiting this place and having the opportunities to spot these creatures and birds here. You can also have overnight adventures and underwater exhibitions in this Crocodile Bank.

Top Things to Do

  • Spotting and learning about reptiles
  • Guided tours
  • Underwater exhibition
  • Birdwatching
  • Overnight adventures

Also Read:  Must Visit Museums in Tamil Nadu

If you have already been to Mahabalipuram, do let us know in the comment box how you felt to have these above-mentioned experiences. But, if you haven’t yet visited this wonderful place in Mahabalipuram, may this piece of article be the source of your planning. If you seek any help in planning a Mahabalipuram trip, you can contact us any time any day. We design and create packages in India and other countries that fit everyone’s budget and interest.

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Frequently Asked Questions

 

What are the most special things to explore in Mahabalipuram?

The most special things to explore in Mahabalipuram are definitely the UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the ancient Hindu temples, the beaches, cave temples, wildlife bank and the bustling markets for shopping.

How many days are needed to explore the best of Mahabalipuram tourism?

A minimum of two days are required for exploring Mahabalipuram.

What is the nearest airport and railway station to Mahabalipuram?

The nearest airport to Mahabalipuram is Chennai and Chengalpattu Railway Junction is the nearest railhead, 23 kilometres away.

What are the top visiting attractions for tourists in Mahabalipuram?

The top tourist attractions in Mahabalipuram are:

  • Shore Temple
  • Mahabalipuram Beach
  • Arjuna’s Penance
  • Five Rathas
  • Ganesh Ratha
  • Alamparai Fort
  • Tiger Caves
  • Covelong Beach
  • Krishna’s Butter Ball
  • Mahishasuramardini Cave
  • Mamallapuram Lighthouse
  • Crocodile Bank

Which is the best time to plan a holiday vacation to Mahabalipuram?

The best time to plan holidays in Mahabalipuram is from November to February.

What are the top destinations to visit nearby Mahabalipuram?

Nearby best places to explore to Mahabalipuram are:

  • Vellore
  • Kanchipuram
  • Kovalam
  • Chittoor
  • Chennai
  • Srikalahasti
  • Pondicherry
  • Thiruvannamalai
  • Trichy
  • Chettinad
  • Pichavaram
  • Chidambram
  • Ambur

What are the top places to visit for couples in Mahabalipuram?

Top places to visit for couples in Mahabalipuram are:

  • Mahabalipuram Beach
  • Covelong Beach
  • Sadras
  • Wide Beach
  • Edward Elliot’s Beach
  • Arignar Anna Zoological Park
  • Cave Temples
  • Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram
  • Kipling Cafe

Published: 02 Jan, 2023 | Last Updated: 03 Jan, 2023

About the author

Nandini Bhattacharya

From the ‘City of Joy,’ Kolkata, Nandini Bhattacharya is a Travel Writer by profession and traveller by passion. She loves to explore places around the world, new cultures, different cuisines and all new things that one can learn outside the home. She also loves to document her journey so that people can be inspired and travel more. Nandini is a nature lover and talks about sustainable tourism. She wants to make this world a good place where people can live healthy and happily.